SBC Land Clarifies Statement on BWA "Alternative"

Rebuffing the recent assertions that the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is planning to create an “alternative to the Baptist World Alliance (BWA),” the head of the SBC’s public policy ministry explained that the SBC has "no intention of duplicating” or “formally organizing” any Baptist body that will compete with the BWA.

In a January 18 report, the Associated Baptist Press (ABP) stated the “Southern Baptist Convention leaders will meet with international Baptist leaders in July to create an alternative to the Baptist World Alliance.”

The ABP, an independent moderate news agency for Baptists, quoted Richard Land, the president of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission (ERLC), as saying, “I am going to a meeting with other Southern Baptist leaders and with Baptist leaders from around the world in Warsaw, Poland, this July to form a new alternative to the Baptist World Alliance,” during a January 18 panel discussion on the role of religion in public and political life.

“A July meeting would compete with the Baptist World Congress July 27-31 in Birmingham, England, when BWA will celebrate its 100th anniversary,” the ABP reported.

Denton Lotz, the general secretary of the Baptist World Alliance (BWA), was also reportedly “shocked” that SBC leaders would “attempt to form an alternative body to the BWA.”

"I would hope that the SBC and its people would not further divide the Baptists of the world by trying to start a competitive organization to the Baptist World Alliance," Lotz told Associated Baptist Press. "It goes against everything they've told us in meetings that we've had -- that they would not start another world organization."

However, according to Richard Land, the SBC does not plan to start another world “duplication” of the BWA.

“Yes, we will be meeting in Warsaw in July, but it will not be to duplicate the BWA. We will be holding discussions from interested leaders to discuss ways of mutually supporting each other,” Land said to the Christian Post on Wednesday.

“We’ve had enough of formal organizations.”

When asked what he meant by “alternative organization,” Dr Land explained: “It’s not so much so an alternative organization or structure, but it is an alternative way for international Baptists to relate to one another.

Land also said the alternative group should not cause any wider problems within the Baptist world.

“We’re only going to be working with and ministering with those who want to work with us,” said Land. “This is a purely voluntary and cooperative mutual king of thing, and I don’t see how this could be threatening to anyone.”

According to Land, the SBC will strive to provide a forum where more theologically conservative Baptists can minister and work together.

“We have had discussions and heard complaints and criticisms about the BWA from the world’s conservatives. Baptists in the second and third world are more conservative theologically, and I suspect that those are whom we will be most in dialogue with,” said Dr. Land. “We will dialogue with Baptists in Eastern Europe and other second and third world countries that are more in sync with us than those in North America or Europe.”

Last year, the SBC broke its 99-year old relationship with the BWA, cutting both membership and financial ties with the Alliance it helped create. According to SBC officials, the break was a result of the BWA’s leftward theological drift; BWA leaders meanwhile asserted the SBC broke its relationship because of the BWA’s decision to accept as members the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) – a fellowship of churches that broke away from the SBC in the early 1990s.

Land’s January 18th comments came in response to a question regarding the break.

Leslie Tune, the Washington news director for the National Council of Churches and a Baptist minister, asked Land how the SBC plans to continue dialoguing with other Christians if it is “pulling out of the table where the conversation could happen.”

“The Baptist World Alliance was moving in a liberal theological direction by and large, and it was not serving a lot of the needs of a lot of the Second- and Third-World countries. We have the same phenomenon in Baptist life that you have, for instance, in Anglican life, where Anglicans in the Second and Third World are somewhat appalled by the liberalism of Anglicans in Northern Europe and North America.,” Land was quoted as saying.

“We are not cocooning ourselves. In fact, I am going to a meeting with other Southern Baptist leaders and with Baptist leaders from around the world in Warsaw, Poland, this July to form a new alternative to the Baptist World Alliance,” he added. “We just felt like that, when the majority of the Baptist World Alliance wanted to go in one direction and we wanted to go in another and we were paying 80 percent of the bills, then we had the right to try to form something that was more in line with what our belief system is. … [I]n no way, shape or form should this be seen as a withdrawal from a commitment to fellowship with Baptists in other countries and other continents."

According to Dr. Land, Tune’s question regarding the SBC-BWA break had “nothing to do with anything we were talking about.”

“It was a question from the left field. It had nothing to do with anything we were talking about,” said Land. “It was a seminar on the role of religion and moral values in public policy, and 98 percent of the participants were not Baptists.”

Meanwhile, Morris Chapman, the SBC’s chief executive, explained that the SBC has “no desire” to compete with the BWA.

"In fact, we hope for the BWA God’s blessings in every work they do for the Kingdom’s sake and pray for them a meaningful and fulfilling World Baptist Congress in England this summer,” said Chapman to ABP.

According to Chapman, the SBC’s relationship to the worldwide Baptists would be more of a fellowship or ministry, as opposed to a structuralized organization like that of the BWA.

"All along we have said that while the convention voted to withdraw its membership from the BWA, it by no means voted to withdraw our fellowship from Baptists around the world. If anything, we hope to have a closer relationship with our Baptist brethren by developing a more personal and cohesive fellowship with those whose primary goal coincides with ours, the evangelization of the masses. …” said Chapman.

Land agreed.

“They (the press) assumed the SBC will form a parallel organization to the BWA, but the two will be clearly different. The SBC is looking into an amorphous informal resource to minister and pray for one another,” said Land.

“There is zero desire to recreate an organization like the BWA.”